Lionel Messi hit his 21st Barcelona hat-trick as his 10-man side scored a thrilling victory.
Madrid: With Lionel Messi as a three-time goal-taker and Cesc Fabregas as a three-time goal-maker, 10-man Barcelona outlasted Deportivo La Coruna in a wild 5-4 shootout in the Spanish league on Saturday. Fabregas set up Jordi Alba's opener before Cristian Tello and Messi both followed suit as Barcelona roared to 3-0 just 18 minutes in at Riazor Stadium.
But some dubious officiating saw Javier Mascherano sent off in the 49th, and the visitors needed Messi's 15th overall goal in a superb individual effort 13 minutes from time to stay unbeaten and secure the victory over a resilient Deportivo side. "It was a crazy game in every way," said Fabregas. "We are happy to get the three points after a long international week. We take away our good first half, but those four goals show we have room to improve."
The entertaining victory kept Barcelona eight points ahead of Real Madrid after Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 15th goal in all competitions to help the defending champions labour to a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo.
Less taxed by its rival than Barcelona, Madrid can focus on their highly anticipated Champions League visit to German titleholder Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. Barcelona host Celtic a day earlier.
Messi leads the Spanish league with 11 goals. Ronaldo is right behind with nine. Radamel Falcao can add to his tally of eight on Sunday as second-place Atletico Madrid seek a win at Real Sociedad to stay level on points with Barcelona.
Barcelona was a whirlwind at the start, playing unquestionably its best football of the campaign. Fabregas met Jordi Alba's run down the left side for the back to get Barcelona rolling three minutes in, and Tello rifled between goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia's legs to double the lead five minutes later.
Fabregas then laid off a back-heeled pass for Messi to rip over Aranzubia in the 18th as Barcelona looked destined to rout, or at least have an easy time the rest of the way. But Deportivo rallied with a little help from the referee, who whistled Mascherano for a questionable foul of Ivan "Riki" Sanchez on the edge of the box.
Forward Luis "Pizzi" Afonso stroked in the resulting free kick in the 26th. Eleven minutes later Alejandro Bergantinos blasted a shot through the hands of goalkeeper Victor Valdes to make it 3-2 and ignite the crowd. "We played well and got up 3-0, but then after their penalty and second goal it turned complicated for us," Fabregas said.
Messi and Fabregas teamed up to put Barcelona back in front by two goals when Fabregas slipped the ball through the defense for Messi to slot into the far side of the net two minutes before halftime. Barcelona appeared to have regained control, but that quickly changed in the 47th when Pizzi curled a free kick past Valdes, who got a touch on the ball but not enough to keep it out.
Barcelona was reduced to 10 men moments later when the referee booked Mascherano a second time for hitting Riki's face with his arm. "It wasn't a penalty, nor was it even a foul when Mascherano was sent off," said Messi. "But that's football. The referee saw the contrary. The important thing is that we got the win."
With Deportivo pressing for the equaliser, Messi decided the match with a pure display of his unique talent, resisting a tackle near the centre-line before charging forward and finding the angle to shoot around two defenders and the goalie to grab his hat trick.
Fittingly for such an up-and-down contest, Alba scored an absurd own goal in the 79th, flipping the ball over Valdes in a horribly flubbed attempt to clear, and Barcelona had to resist until the end to get the three points.